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November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
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From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

JANUARY 21, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 2

A Challenge to Rome
China's state church ordains five bishops
By TODD CROWELL and DAVID HSIEH Beijing

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Resplendent in white ceremonial garments, five bishops kneeled before the altar of Beijing's Nantang Cathedral to be blessed by Liu Yuanren, president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops College of the Patriotic Catholic Church. The ordinations, coming on the same day that Pope John Paul II ordained 12 bishops (none Chinese) was seen as a deliberate act of defiance and possibly a setback in the slow-moving efforts to normalize ties between Beijing and the Vatican.

Although the ceremony followed Roman Catholic practices, the five bishops were selected and installed by the Chinese church without the authority of the Pope, who maintains his right to appoint bishops and cardinals worldwide. Formal ties between Vatican City and China were severed after the communist revolution. The Holy See's formal recognition of Taiwan has long been a stumbling block toward further dialogue with the Roman church.

By official count, about 4 million Chinese belong to the state-sanctioned Catholic Church. Perhaps twice as many remain loyal to the Pope. They worship secretly in "underground" churches. The authorities still arrest and imprison unsanctioned bishops and priests. But the issue is not so clear cut. It is believed that some of the bishops belonging to the "patriotic" Church have also been secretly consecrated by the Pope.

Beijing denied that the ceremonies were undertaken to snub Rome (the date, Jan. 6, is Epiphany, a holy day in the Roman Catholic Church). "Ordaining bishops is the internal affair of the Patriotic Catholic Association," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao. One cleric loyal to the state-sanctioned church, however, did not rule out the possibility that the ordinations might be a provocation: "There should be challenges. The Vatican can challenge China; why can't China challenge the Vatican?"

President Jiang Zemin authorized new diplomatic initiatives last year. The Vatican seems prepared to switch its diplomatic recognition to Beijing, but it is not willing to give up its Taiwan card unless it can get more latitude to appoint bishops without interference from China. For its part, Beijing seems agreeable to sharing responsibility for the selection of new bishops with Rome, as it already shares in choosing new lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. But it is not willing to surrender to the Pope the complete authority to appoint all of China's church officers. Despite numerous secret negotiating sessions, the two sides do not appear ready at all to come to an agreement.

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